Posts Tagged ‘back surgery’

Meet your Spine Surgeon: A Conversation with Dr. John Heller 

Spine Surgeon

The spine supports the body’s weight and protects the nerves in the spinal cord that run through it. It helps maintain the body’s muscle control and nerve coordination, and without it, we wouldn’t be able to function. Spine surgery, a subspecialty of orthopedic surgery, includes the treatment and management of a wide variety of conditions affecting the neck and back, including herniated discs and fractures.

For Emory Healthcare spine surgeon John G. Heller, MD, the care and treatment of patients with spine issues is personally rewarding. His practice works to improve the lives of patients while training the next generation of spine surgeons.

Patients, understandably, often have many questions regarding spine conditions and their treatment. Recently, Dr. Heller spoke with Dr. Bruce Feinberg for The Weekly Check-up on WSB Radio about a wide range of issues related to the spine surgery. The following are summarized excerpts.

Question: Tell us about your team.

Dr. Heller: Over the last 28 years I’ve been at Emory, our team of spine specialists has grown a lot and so has our field. Right now, we have a team comprised of 11 orthopedic and neuro-spine specialists who are surgeons. We also have more than a dozen non-operative specialists, whose job it is to keep people from meeting the surgeons. It’s the minority of folks who actually need to or end up seeing a surgeon.

Question: How have you seen your practice grow?

Dr. Heller: We’ve been really fortunate in recent years to have the Emory Orthopaedic & Spine Hospital, in addition to Emory Midtown, to work in. It’s been a game changer for us and our patients. We have an entire hospital with a mission focused on joint replacement and spine. It’s a smoother experience for patients and we’ve seen that in our patient satisfaction rates, which are some of the highest in the country. We’re very proud of what we have built as a team, and in doing that alongside our educational and research activities. We now have points of access across the region to serve patients closer to home.

Question: How do you spend your days?

Dr. Heller: I alternate days either in the office all day or in the operating room all day. If I’m in the office, I see about 15 to 20 patients a day, which means I get to spend a good bit of time with each patient.

What we do really takes some time to get to know the patient, what’s going on and their options, and to go over all the information. On the days I’m operating, it can vary between a few operations that are several hours long each, to one operation that lasts anywhere from 10 to 14 hours.

Question: What is myelopathy?

Dr. Heller: We see and treat many cervical spine conditions, and this is one of our most common. Myelopathy is compression of the spinal cord caused by wear and tear which creates multiple points of pressure. We see this most commonly in those aged 55 and over. Myelopathy commonly presents with little to no pain, wobbly legs, and clumsy hands. There are a variety of different operations that we can do to help people with this condition.

Question: What is spinal stenosis?

Dr. Heller: Spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal. As patients get older, their discs wear out and the place for the nerves in the low back and neck get crowded out. This condition can be associated leg pain, arm pain, back or neck pain, and sciatica.

Question: What is disc herniation?

Dr. Heller: Disc herniation commonly occurs in young healthy people who have a piece of a disc break off and compress a nerve. More than half the time, they never need to see a spine surgeon.

Question: What are your thoughts on using opioids to manage pain, given the concerns from patients and the medical industry?

Dr. Heller: Opioid abuse is dangerous, and we take prescribing opioids very seriously. Daily, on average, 142 people in the U.S. die because of prescription opioid accidents. We also know that taking opioids for a long enough period of time can make the pain worse, not better since they change the body’s central nervous system. I tell patients to use common sense, use what you need to when you need to, and don’t use it when you don’t need to.

Listen to the full conversation >>

Dr. Heller practices at Emory University Orthopaedics & Spine Hospital. To learn more about Emory Orthopaedics & Spine surgeons and treatment options available to you, visit www.emoryhealthcare.org/ortho or call 404-778-3350.


About Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Hospital

Emory’s Orthopaedics & Spine Hospital has locations across the Atlanta metro area. Emory’s physicians diagnose and treat conditions ranging from simple herniated disc and lower back and neck pain to more complex problems such as spinal tumor scoliosis and spine fractures. Emory Healthcare has the only hospital in Georgia that is dedicated to spine and joint surgery as well as non-operative spine and joint surgical interventions for physical therapy. For more information, or to schedule an appointment or an opinion, visit www.emoryhealthcare.org/ortho.

About Dr. John Heller

John G. Heller, MD, is an orthopedic surgeon specializing in the research and development of instrumentation in cervical spine surgery, including cervical disc replacement and laminoplasty. His clinical interests include herniated disc sciatica, spinal stenosis, and spinal tumors. An internationally renowned lecturer and teacher, Dr. Heller is the past president of the Cervical Spine Research Society and was one of the first surgeons in the country to perform laminoplasty.

Learn more about Dr. Heller >>

Back Surgery: Should You or Shouldn’t you?

Learn when back surgery is a good idea and what your surgical and nonsurgical options might be, from an Emory specialist.If you’re like most Americans, you’re no stranger to back pain. When the pain interferes with your life, it’s time for treatment. But is it time for back surgery?

Today’s surgical techniques are safer and often less invasive than in years past. But any surgery carries some risks, such as infection, bleeding, blood loss or nerve damage. Always get a second opinion from a qualified spine specialist before you have back surgery. And, try other treatments first, such as physical therapy, cortisone shots or medication.

“Even surgeons don’t always agree on whether to operate or what type of surgery to perform. Back and leg pain can be complex,” explained Emory spine specialist Dheera Ananthakrishnan, MD. “At Emory, we take a team approach and we consider your goals and preferences as priority.”

Back surgery options might include:

  • Discectomy: Removal of the herniated portion of a disk to relieve pressure and pain.
  • Laminectomy: Removal of the bone overlying the spinal canal to relieve nerve pressure from spinal stenosis.
  • Fusion: Connection of two or more bones in your spine to make your back more stable and prevent painful motion between the bones.
  • Artificial disk: Removal of a disk and replacement with an artificial one. Artificial disks are fairly new and may not be an option for many people.

Is back or leg pain affecting your life? The Emory Orthopaedics and Spine Center in Atlanta can help. Do you want to learn more now? Yes, I want to learn more now.

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About Dr. Ananthakrishnan

ananthakrishnan-dheeraDr. Ananthakrishnan trained with one of the pioneers of scoliosis surgery, Dr. David Bradford, at the University of California at San Francisco. After completion of her fellowship, she practiced orthopedic and spine surgery for over three years at the University of Washington in Seattle. In 2007, she left Seattle to work with Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors without Borders in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. She then worked as a volunteer consultant at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, before starting her position at Emory University, where her focus is on adult and adolescent scoliosis.

In 2009, Dr Ananthakrishnan co-founded Orthopaedic Link, a non-profit dedicated to improving orthopaedic care in the developing world by mobilization of unused implants from the United States.   She is also a candidate member of the Scoliosis Research Society.

Although Dr Ananthakrishnan routninely performs complex spinal reconstruction surgery, an injury in 2012 caused her to reevaluate her own approach to musculoskeletal health.  Her practice philosophy now focuses on strengthening, stretching and general conditioning  (“prehab”) as an adjunct to surgical care of her patients.

The Importance of a Second Surgical Opinion

spine-second-opinion-squareIf you’re one of the 13 million Americans suffering from back pain, neck pain or sciatica (pain running down your leg), your doctor may recommend surgery to relieve your discomfort.

While surgery can be life-changing for the better, it certainly isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. Surgery comes with its own risks and doesn’t always solve the problem. It may even introduce new ones.

You should get a second opinion before you have surgery. Don’t worry about offending your doctor. Second opinions are common practice. It can give you peace of mind that you’re making the right decision, especially if that decision is to go through with surgery.

Questions to Ask your Doctor

Before you jump into surgery, be sure to ask:

  • What is the likelihood of success?
  • What is the possibility of residual or worsened symptoms?
  • What are the risks of anesthesia?
  • What are the risks of spine surgery?
  • What is the chance of recurrence of my symptoms in the future?
  • What will happen if I don’t have surgery?

Rethinking Surgery

The good news is that most cases of back and neck problems can be resolved without surgery. In fact, spine surgery is only absolutely needed in a small percentage of cases.

If pain is the only symptom, then surgery is almost always elective, and the decision to proceed is based on weighing the risks versus potential benefits.

Surgery is usually the best option for severe weakness due to nerve or spinal cord compression; however every case is unique. Every patient has a different set of symptoms, exam findings, medical comorbidities (other health disorders) and life goals that drive the decision-making process.

Weighing the Options

Fortunately, most of the patients seen at the Emory Spine Center can be treated with less invasive treatments such as physical therapy, spinal injections or tweaking lifestyle choices that affect spine health. Usually surgery should only be considered once the conservative therapies have been exhausted. If you haven’t already, be sure to talk to your doctor about nonsurgical treatment options for your condition.

The decision to have surgery for most people with back or neck problems usually comes down to your lifestyle goals and desired quality of life.

For example, some people don’t mind living with a certain amount of pain and are content to manage it with anti-inflammatory medications. They can function well through day-to-day tasks and are willing to give up some activities, like running, in favor of lower impact exercise like walking. For them, they may feel the investment and risk of surgery isn’t worth it.

Other patients at this same level of discomfort may prefer to have surgery in hopes of less pain and more mobility. For some people, pain may interfere with daily tasks like doing the laundry or even just getting in and out of the bathtub. They may feel the potential benefits of surgery far outweigh the risks.

If your pain and other symptoms keep you from doing the kinds of activities you enjoy, and less invasive treatments haven’t helped you achieve your health and lifestyle goals, surgery might be a reasonable choice.

We Can Help

If you have been told you need surgery and would like a second opinion, then the Emory Spine Center is a great place to start. We will review your current imaging and obtain any necessary X-rays the same day. Once your records are reviewed and a history and physical exam are performed, we will give our own opinion on the best course of action. This will give you peace of mind that you are making the right choices for you and your family.

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About Dr. Gary

gary-matt-webMatthew Gary, MD, attended medical school at the University of Florida where he was inducted into Alpha Omega Alpha for academic excellence.  Following medical school, he completed residency training in neurological surgery at Emory University. During his residency, he gave numerous presentations at local and national neurosurgical society meetings and received research awards at the Congress of Neurological Surgeons and Georgia Neurosurgical Society.  He went on to complete a complex and minimally invasive spine fellowship at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital under the tutelage of Drs. Barth Green, Allen Levi and Michael Wang.  He is interested in all facets of spine health and maximizing patients’ quality of life with a focus on minimally invasive spine surgery.

“I’m a Medical Miracle!” : One Emory Spine Center Patient’s Experience

Andy ReynoldsBy Andy Reynolds, Emory Spine Center Patient 

In midsummer of 2010, my riding lawn mower flipped over and pinned me underneath. My back was broken in three parts. I had surgery to fuse and implant rods and screws. My pain never went away, so later I had the rods and screws removed in hopes of pain relief.

My pain worsened and more issues developed within the next four years. My nerves were damaged which lead to horrific pain, migraines, insomnia, and I developed Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. I could hardly make it through a day at work, I wore a brace and had seen about 16 different doctors before I was referred to a spine specialist. That spine specialist was my medical miracle doctor, Emory neurosurgeon, Dr. Gerald Rodts.

Dr. Rodts showed me a CT scan image of my spine and surprisingly revealed that my fracture was never repaired, and therefore, never properly healed. Dr. Rodts was in disbelief that I was not paralyzed since my back was still broken.

I had spine surgery November 24, 2014 at Emory University Hospital Midtown. During my surgery, Dr. Rodts worked his magic and reconstructed the damaged area of my spine so my nerves were no longer pinched.

Today, I don’t have a single issue left from my incident and my life has changed drastically. I went from enduring a multitude of health issues, including horrific pain, to being completely healthy and happy. Since my spine surgery, I can stand longer now, travel and go in the pool. I am able to participate in activities I enjoy like outdoor planting and am looking forward to yard work and even getting back on my lawn mower come Spring. I also cannot wait to get back to lifting weights at the gym.

When I look back at photos of me, I can see how bad of a shape I was in by the pained look on my face. My medical miracle would not have happened if it hadn’t been for Dr. Rodts and the spine team at Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center. Everyone was wonderful; it was like a five star experience.

A note from Dr. Gerald Rodts, Jr.

Andy had originally suffered a severe fracture of the lumbar vertebra, at a crucial transition area between his lower thoracic spine and upper lumbar spine. Despite having had surgery to stabilize the fracture, it ultimately never healed. It became a source of chronic, severe back pain. In order to fix the problem, the surgery required a different approach.

The surgery was done with cardiothoracic surgeon, Allen Pickens, MD. With the help of Dr. Pickens, an incision was made on the chest wall (flank) on the left side. A rib was removed, and the large diaphragm muscle disconnected from the spine. The fracture pieces of vertebra were removed, and the spine was rebuilt with a titanium fusion cage, rib bone graft, and two screws and a rod. The diaphragm muscle was reconnected, and the chest wall closed. This procedure renders the spine immediately strong and stable, and the area of the fracture then continues to strengthen as the bone graft heals.

To learn more about the wide range of spine conditions treated at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center in Atlanta, click here or call 404-778-3350.

About Dr. Rodts

Gerald Rodts, MDGerald E. Rodts, Jr., MD,  is a Professor of Neurosurgery and Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at Emory University School of Medicine. In addition, he is the Director of the Spine Fellowship Program in the Department of Neurosurgery at The Emory Spine Center and Chief of Neurosurgery Spine Service at The Emory Clinic.

Dr. Rodts graduated from Princeton University with a degree in biology and a Certificate of Study of Science in Human Affairs. He received his M.D. from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York and completed his neurosurgery residency training at the University of California in Los Angeles, followed by a 1-year fellowship in complex spinal neurosurgery at Emory University. Dr. Rodts has served as the President of the Congress of Neurological Surgeons as well as serving as the Secretary. He has also served as the Chairman of the AANS/CNS Joint Section on Disorders of the Spine and Peripheral Nerves. He is also a founding editor of the award-winning website, Spine Universe. He has been selected as one of the Castle and Connelley’s “Top Doc” neurosurgeons in the United States ten years in a row and has received a similar distinction in Atlanta Magazine annually. He is a neurotrauma consultant to the National Football League.

Dr. Rodts manages patients with spinal disorders, and specializes in neoplastic, rheumatoid, degenerative, traumatic spinal disorders, syringomyelia and Chiari malformations. His research interests are in computer-assisted, image-guided surgery and minimally-invasive spinal techniques.

Areas of Clinical Interest:

  • Complex spine surgery and reconstruction
  • Computer-assisted image-guided spine surgery
  • Minimally-invasive spine surgery
  • Revision spinal surgery

Emory Spine Center Patient: “Dr. Ananthakrishnan is a miracle worker.”

By Renee Godley, patient at Emory Orthopaedic, Sports & Spine Center

Emory Orthopedics PatientIn 1969, I had scoliosis surgery. During this surgery, my spine was fused and a Harington Rod was attached to the muscles in my spine. After the surgery, I was bedridden for six months and in a body casts for a total of nine months. I recovered well and learned how to live with my limitations.

In 1990, I started to suffer from lower back pain. I visited Emory Orthopaedic, Sports & Spine Center, in Atlanta, Georgia and I was informed that I needed to have additional surgery. The wear and tear on my lower three discs had progressed to the point that I would need to have them replaced and fused within 10 years. I said no immediately because I knew the process, I had a three year old daughter at home and I would again, be bedridden for three months and in a body cast that extended down to my right knee. I was unwilling to go through the process a second time. Fear lead me to that decision.

From 2007 until 2012 I saw a pain management orthopedist, which helped me to numb the pain. Then I was advised to see Emory Orthopaedic, Sports & Spine physician, Dheera Ananthakrishnan, MD. Fear once again took hold of me. I had done research and quickly realized I was suffering from Flat Back Syndrome. I read information about the surgeries (two, for a total of at least 12 hours), and started to panic. I finally reached the point where the pain was too much and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I did not want to have surgery and I did not know what to do.

My life had become very restrictive. I could no longer go out to eat or even sit on the living room couch for an extended period of time, rather I had to lie down to lessen the pressure on my spine. I loved attending Georgia football games and could no longer attend any games, the car ride, walk to the stadium and sitting in the stands were beyond my capabilities. I just could not go anymore. My husband wanted to go to the movies, and you guessed it, I could not; I couldn’t do anything.

After much fear, unbearable pain and many days and nights spent crying, my life would soon change. I was referred to Emory Spine Center to see Dr. Ananthakrishnan (Doctor A). Doctor A examined me and ran numerous tests and the diagnosis was, as predicted, Flat Back Syndrome. Although I did not want to have the surgeries, I had no choice. I was scheduled for surgery in December of 2012. For thirty days I was taken off my medications (anti-inflammatories) and realized just how disabled I had become. I was immobile, I couldn’t walk, much less do anything.

On, December 7, 2012, I had surgery at Emory University Orthopedics & Spine Hospital with Dr. Ananthakrishnan that included three replacement discs. A second surgery was held on December 11, 2012 where two rods and 16 one inch titanium screws were placed in my back.

Thanks to Dr. Ananthakrishnan, for the first time in 30 years, I had no pain in my back! This is the best feeling that I’ve felt since I met my husband and got married. Dr. A is a miracle worker. In the two years since my surgery I have begun to walk for exercise, averaging approximately five miles of exercise per day. I went from not walking at all to averaging over 70,000 steps per week.

Everyone I see can’t believe how good I look. I stand straight. I am no longer hunched over. When someone tells me they are experiencing back pain, the first thing I ask them is, “Have you gone to Emory yet?” I would not have the quality of life I have today without Dr. Ananthakrishnan.

A note from Dr. Dheera Ananthakrishnan

I vividly remember the first day that I met Mrs. Godley. She was still so traumatized from her scoliosis surgery all those years ago! I was very worried that she would have difficulty coping with such a large revision surgery. Was I ever wrong! She sailed through two really large surgeries, and has been a textbook patient, inspiring others to follow in her footsteps.

One of the great joys of performing surgery is to see how life-altering it can be for patients who have lived with disability and pain for a long time. Mrs. Godley embodies this for me. It has been my great pleasure to know her and care for her. Now the only tears that are shed during our visits are tears of joy.

About Dr. Ananthakrishnan

Dheera Ananthakrishnan, MDDheera Ananthakrishnan, MD, trained with one of the pioneers of scoliosis surgery, Dr. David Bradford, at the University of California at San Francisco. After completion of her fellowship, Dr. Ananthakrishnan practiced orthopedic and spine surgery for over three years at the University of Washington in Seattle. In 2007, she left Seattle to work with Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. She then worked as a volunteer consultant at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, before starting her position at Emory University. She maintains an interest in developing-world orthopedics through her non-profit, Orthopaedic Link, and is currently involved in projects in the Philippines, Nepal, and Bulgaria.

Dr. Ananthakrishnan’s practice focuses on adult scoliosis and degenerative conditions. She also treats adolescent spinal disorders as well as tumors and cervical conditions. She has been at the Emory Orthopaedic and Spine Center since 2007.